Wake Forest Sports Under Ron Wellman: Part IX - Men's Golf

Streeter Lecka

Welcome back (since, presumably, yesterday)! Today I'm looking at Wake's traditionally strongest program - men's golf.

A brief recap of this series: in an effort to sift through the rhetoric to the facts surrounding current Wake athletic director Ron Wellman's tenure, I'm going sport-by-sport through the Wake programs and comparing how they've fared under Wellman (the past 21 years, which for golf is the 1994 season onwards) compared to the previous decade of results.

***** Index *****

Part I - Football

Part II - Volleyball

Part III - Men's Soccer

Part IV - Women's Soccer

Part V - Men's and Women's Cross Country

Part VI - Field Hockey

Part VII - Men's Basketball

Part VIII - Women's Basketball

***** Program Overview *****

So here's a quick story about Wake golf. I am a golfer. I am not a superb golfer, but I'm not exactly bad either: I earned a varsity letter my junior year of high school and currently sport a (high) single digit handicap. Back when I was a freshman at Wake, the school held their annual club meet-and-greet on the Mag Quad (now Manchester Plaza). As I was meandering, I stumbled across the club golf team tryout sign-up sheet. Figuring it'd be worth a shot, I went over and began leafing through the booklet. After five solid pages of low single-digit handicap golfers, I decided that maybe I was a bit out of my league and wandered off.

Wake has an extremely proud men's golfing tradition. Three of Wake's eight team national titles are from men's golf (1974, 1975, 1986), and none of those teams featured the most successful and recognizable golfer who calls himself a Deac: Arnold Palmer. All told, former Deacs have won 12 major titles at the professional level. Collegiately, Wake has produced - take a deep breath:

- 10 first-team all-Americans (Ken Folkes, Jack Lewis, Joe Inman, Lanny Wadkins, Jim Simons, Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Gary Hallberg, Chris Kite, Bill Haas);

- 7 multiple first-team all-Americans (Lewis in 1968-69; Wadkins in 1970-71; Simons in 1971-72; Strange in 1974-76; Jay Haas in 1975-76; Hallberg in 1977-1980; Bill Haas in 2002-04);

- 1 four-time first-team all-American (Hallberg, one of four players to ever accomplish this feat, along with Bryce Molder, David Duval, and some shmo named Phil Mickelson);

- 21 individual ACC champions;

- 18 ACC team championships;

- 3 NCAA individual champions (Strange in 1974; Jay Haas in 1975; Hallberg in 1979); and

- the aforementioned 3 national championships (1974, 1975, 1986).

Basically, Wake traditionally has been to golf about what Duke or North Carolina have been to men's basketball.

But here's the thing: almost none of these accolades has occurred within the past 31 years. During this period, the Deacs have had one ACC team championship (1989), two ACC individual champions (Tim Straub in 1989 and Sean Moore in 2004), Bill Haas, and the miraculous 1986 national championship, in which the Deacs charged from 12 strokes back on the back nine to win (at Bermuda Run, no less).

What has happened in the past 31 seasons: a series of ups and downs like that of a regular program, including a current stretch that ranks as possibly the worst prolonged period in Wake men's golf history.

***** Notes on Methodology *****

Like cross country, golf doesn't have defined "games" as much as matches cumulatively scored against a set of other schools. When I reviewed cross country, I used the data that I could find that was reasonably reliable on a year-to-year basis, which was the ACC Championships.

Men's golf has significantly more data available; in fact, I would argue that men's golf has significantly too much data available: (almost) every finish since the 1982 season. To gauge all the results would take awhile. So I've cut down and reduced the available data to the ACC Championships and the first round of the NCAA Championships (which was the championship rounds until the tournament split into a regional qualification process in 1989, so it will be the regional after that year and the championship rounds before that).

To evaluate winning percentage, I've used the finish to project how Wake would fare in individual matches; i.e., a third place finish out of 11 teams would be 2 losses and 8 wins, for a winning percentage of .800. In the event of ties, I've assumed one team to be tied. Each tie counts as half a win, so a tied for 3rd finish instead of a solo third finish would count as 2.5 losses and 7.5 wins (.750 winning percentage), regardless of how many teams the Deacs actually ended up tied with.

One other note: Wake has qualified for the NCAA Regionals every year since 1989 except 1999. As a result, I've projected the 1999 record based on the 1998 and 2000 records compared to the respective stroke averages of those teams and projected where Wake would've placed (towards the bottom) had it actually played the Regional.



The now customary refresher: the silver line represents the beginning of Wellman's tenure, separating the previous decade on which the yellow line is based and the results upon which we're looking at more closely.

Again, mostly ups, including that 1986 national title. Interestingly, the 1989 ACC title season was otherwise not a successful season.

As you'll see later, there are a lot of years clustered around that .669 standard, which is the highest of any sport covered thus far. However, with such a threshold, there is more room for failure than improvement, and the dips that Wake has had (1998-99 and 2011-2013) are much more penal for the review.


The conference standard is a nearly equivalent .667 winning percentage, which is also the highest of any sport reviewed thus far (by far, I would add). Essentially, this projects to an average fourth place finish in a ten team ACC (6 wins, 3 losses).

As you can see, the majority of seasons under Wellman have fallen below the standard, and in some cases well below the standard. In addition to the 1998-99 and 2011-13 swells, Wellman had the misfortune of taking over during a pronounced downswing in golf as the heydays of the late 80's were finishing, resulting in an additional valley from 1994-96.


The 4 year average graph does a much better job of smoothing out the spikiness, and you can clearly see the overall ups and downs of the program.

Note the past few years: I wasn't kidding when I said it was arguably the worst prolonged stretch in men's golf history.

Also note that I haven't divided the graph between coaches, primarily because a golf team coach (in my opinion) exerts very little control over his players. Golf is highly individualized, and private instruction is much more important for skill development at an early age than in college. If you're curious, Jesse Haddock was the legendary coach who retired in 1992, after taking over from Bones McKinney (!!!) in 1960, and Jerry Haas took over in 1997, and I have no idea who was in between (it has apparently been excised from the Wake records and/or Google).


That has not been a pleasant couple of years; the strong performance of the Bill Haas teams just before 2005 looks more like an outlier than the other bits.

A brief aside: I think (maybe... 80% sure?) that I once played a pickup basketball game 2-on-2 with Bill as my teammate while at Wake. The only reason I remember this is because the person on my team (who I think was Bill) could dunk. So Bill (or anyone else who might know), if you're reading this: 1) good luck at the U.S Open this week; 2) did you ever play basketball at the gym while at Wake; and 3) can you dunk?

I want to say that athletes weren't supposed to play pickup basketball for safety reasons, but I definitely saw a few play. Trent Strickland kept throwing alley-oops to himself, Taron Downey was a chill mofo and let everyone have a good time, and Richard Joyce missed a dunk trying to show off (to name a few).

Okay, back to graphs.


Like I said earlier, the overall percentage has generally stayed around close to that .669 mark. The recent downswing has taken it below for now, but the Deacs have still won .631 of their games, which is pretty darn good.



The conference graph has also stabilized, but at around .500, well below the .667 standard.

Since 2003, the range has been from .523 to .488, and it currently rests at .497. While this isn't terrible by most standards, it's well below the previous decade, much less the "win 10 conference championships in a row" level that was the Deacs' program in the 70's.

Let's look at net wins:


This graph mirrors the other graphs to a large extent. The positive period during the Bill Haas-Webb Simpson (among others) years in the mid-00's pushed the total from -14.3 (in 2002) up to 9.0 (in 2009), but the freefall since then has taken its toll: the current figure stands at -23.5.


As you'd expect, the conference-only picture is a bit bleaker. -31.8 wins against expected, or basically over a spot worse per year in the ACC Championship than expected. Pretty disappointing.

For what it's worth, Jerry Haas is responsible for -15.4 expected wins overall and -15.8 expected wins in conference, which works out to about one additional loss per season.

***** Summation *****


Proj. Record: 419.5-207.5 (125.3-62.7)

Actual Record: 396-231 (93.5-94.5)

Net: -23.5 (-31.8)

***** Analysis *****

Sometimes I'm not sure why I even bother with this section. The graphs tell the story better than I could - men's golf has been good under Wellman, but not up to its historically great standards, particularly in conference play. I'm not sure to what extent expansion has played a part (if at all), but the days of Wake golf obliterating everything in its path are over, and most likely never coming back. Still, I don't think it's too unreasonable for a program of our historic caliber to push for consistent finishes in the upper portion of the conference.

***** Running Total *****

Football: -6.4 (+2.9) --> -25.8 (+17.3)

Volleyball: +20.9 (+40.8) --> +36.9 (+124.4)

Men's Soccer: +46.5 (+34.6) --> +109.7 (+233.8)

Women's Soccer: +51.3 (+28.9) --> +119.6 (+169.0)

Men's Cross Country: -9.5 (-9.5) --> -48.4 (-48.4)

Women's Cross Country: +17.3 (+17.3) --> +86.6 (+86.6)

Field Hockey: +58.1 (+20.5) --> +131.0 (+164.0)

Men's Basketball: +61.0 (+55.7) --> +91.3 (+163.8)

Women's Basketball: -61.2 (-18.2) --> -99.4 (-56.2)

Men's Golf: -23.5 (-31.8) --> -37.5 (-169.1)


Total: +364.0 (+685.2)


Total: +849.4 (+1751.1)


Next up: women's golf, starring the incomparable Dianne Dailey! Probably tomorrow!

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